By Franz Scheurer
It’s a long way from Sydney to the ‘town’ of Blinman in the Flinders Ranges. It takes two days of solid driving. So when I suggested to George Francisco, chef at Jonah’s at Whale Beach, to accompany me to take part in the great Camp Oven Cook Off, he had no idea just how far west of Blackheath (Vulcan’s being the furthest west he had ever been) this journey would take him.
Blinman is an historic mining town, 485km north of Adelaide, named after a shepherd, Robert Blinman, who discovered copper ore nearby in 1859. Between 1862 and 1907 the Blinman Mine produced 10,000 tons of metal. Blinman’s population reflected the success of the mine with 1,500 residents in 1862, which fell to 200 after closure in 1882. Today Blinman is a sleepy, peaceful town, waiting to be discovered by holidaymakers from the South. The drive into Blinman from Parachilna via either the Glass or the Parachilna Gorge is one of the most picturesque drives in the Flinders Ranges and when you get there you’ll find the terrific Blinman Hotel (first opened in 1869), a post office, a community hall, a coffee shop/restaurant and a ‘you-can-buy-everything-here’ shop. You can stay in one of the hotel’s 17 rooms or camp at the immaculately clean Angorichina Tourist Village campground where Dave manages everything and everyone with aplomb. This is also the place where you can get your tyres fixed…
The Blinman Hotel Camp Oven Cook Off, in its third year in 2005, has become a pilgrimage for station cooks from all around Australia, as well as a weekend of outback fun and frivolity for suburbanites with a legitimate excuse to get down and dirty and a hard-working, hard-drinking weekend for serious cooks.
The rules are simple: on one day you cook with flour (supplied) and on the other with lamb (supplied). You must only use camp ovens or Bedouries and must use the supplied ingredients. However you can bring other ingredients, eg. spices, condiments etc. and use them in your creations. A single-serve plate is presented to the judges at a certain time and the winners are announced on the evening of the second day. The organisers prepare the Cook Off sites and a team of strapping, strong young men produce and deliver coal for all contestants. You may bribe the judges (all goes to the Flying Doctor Service) and a carton of beer to the fire-chief will guarantee you a steady supply of heat.
The atmosphere is one of boisterous conviviality and most people use the same ‘secret ingredient’ (beer for the cooks). What is truly amazing is the creativity on display. As there is a prize for ‘best dressed site’ you might see anything from a decorated marquis to a ‘crime scene’ and from a operating theatre full of scantily clad nurses and fake doctors to a fully imported beach scene, complete with palm tree and sand. Same creativity prevails in the pots. Imagine and you shall find it! Cinnamon swirls, dumplings, steamed puddings, dampers (of course), yeast or sourdough based breads, pasta, babas, even puff pastry is produced on the flour day. Roasts, stews, kebabs and sausages are all fair game on the meat day. Presentation of the dishes is innovative and ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The whole weekend is a wonderful platform to make new friends, meet people with similar interests and generally have good, clean fun.
The “Fun Rating’ has to be 10/10 and YES, it is worth the long trek from Sydney and we’ll be back next year. That’s a threat.
And at the end of the event, all I can add is: ‘the yellow Landrover has left the Flinders!”
Let some pictures speak for themselves…